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Friday, December 7, 2007

Good Question

posted by on December 7 at 16:54 PM

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the case of the Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes, the British school teacher prosecuted for blasphemy in Sudan after her students named a teddy bear “Muhammad,” and a feminist Bangladeshi writer being persecuted by Islamic extremists.

It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted—and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

I wish Hirsi Ali had mentioned that the Saudi woman sentenced to 200 lashes for the crime of sitting in a car with a male non-relative wasn’t the only victim of Islamic justice in that case. She was abducted with her ex-boyfriend, and they were both raped—and both were sentenced to imprisonment and a public lashings.

But, yeah, once again—where are all the Muslim moderates we’re reminded to think no ill of when this kind of idiocy erupts? Perhaps the Seattle Times could go ask the moderate local Muslims that were upset about the Stranger printing those Danish Muhammad cartoons how they’re feeling about that Saudi rape victim.

And someone help me out: When we published the Danish cartoons a Muslim religious leader, one of the authors of the Seattle Times’ rotating religion column (which runs on, I think, Saturdays), wrote a column about how disappointed he was in the Stranger. I can’t find that column on the Seattle Times’ website—or any of the paper’s religion columnists. Don’t they put ‘em online?

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Posted by James | December 7, 2007 5:16 PM

Was that post sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute...?

Posted by col | December 7, 2007 5:23 PM

In addition to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's biography, Infidel, I want to recommend the book While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer for people who are interested in this. He's a little to the right of what I believe (though he's a socially liberal homosexual), but he makes a convincing case that Europe--and really the whole world--has a lot to lose by tolerating extreme intolerance.

Posted by Peter | December 7, 2007 5:38 PM

They sure as heck ain't in Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 7, 2007 5:44 PM

From my understanding, the reason why Islam can seem so alien to Westerners is because one very prominent way Muslims understand their faith is the following:

1) Mohammed was the LAST prophet. As in, the prophesies that make up the Qu'ran represent God's last intervention to help human beings to behave morally. If you don't buy in to the Qu'ran, you've missed the boat forever.

2) The Qu'ran is not just prophesy in the sense that Mohammed simply interpreted God's will the best he could. Mohammed was the conduit for God's word, verbatim. This means that the words of the Qu'ran are ultimate truth, and the most beautiful words written. It is the perfect text, and to defile it is literally to defile God.

These two features put together are the textbook definition of religious fundamentalism. And, while there might be other ways of interpreting Islam, Islam as I understand it is DEFINED by these features. These features are, I think, antithetical to precepts of freedom of speech and cultural relativism.

However, there does appear to be question about whether or not the Qu'ran condones violence in defense of these principles. The notion of Jihad, for example, is very much contested within Islam. I am guessing that there is also question about the correct application of Islamic law to, for example, non-believers. Further, whether or not the Qu'ran says it is permissible to punish someone by whipping them, being permissible and being mandatory are two different things.

The role of Mufti, Sheiks, and other Islamic scholars is to interpret the Qu'ran and issue "fatwas" or opinions about how to apply Islamic teachings to everyday life. The question is the degree to which these scholars all interpret the Qu'ran and the hadiths (stories of the acts of Mohammed and his followers) in the same way. What is the range of interpretation? For example, is it possible that Muslims might want to hold themselves to even higher standards of compassion and forgiveness towards transgressors that the Qu'ran demands--i.e. by not whipping people?

The question of the meaning and weight of words here is key. We Westerners tend to feel that words don't mean that much--otherwise we could not have a first amendment. Our conflict with Islam, as I see it, is at bottom a hermeneutic one.

Posted by FooFootheSnoo | December 7, 2007 5:56 PM

I recall several news stories about moderate Muslims condemning the sentence, and I didn't search them out, either. If neither Ali nor you (nor, say, Glenn Beck) saw them, you weren't paying attention.

Bigoted question, is more like it.

Posted by Chas | December 7, 2007 6:03 PM

All the moderate Muslims are the same place all us moderate Christians are: holed up in our liberal churches reading poetry, singing Beatles songs, and reminding ourselves that the fundies don't represent our faith. I can't fault moderate Muslims for doing the same.

Posted by giantladysquirrels | December 7, 2007 6:05 PM


Normally, I think you are spot on with your assessments, etc. However, in this case, what you are inferring is ridiculous. In today's political climate, it is not easy to self-identify as a Muslim (at least in the US or Europe). I have many friends who are quite angered by these things, but in many ways this anger comes, not because they are moderate muslims, but because they are human and care about others. I am angry when some wacko fundamentalist Christian does something, but I tend not to say "I am moderate Christian, and I think that is wrong". I feel no need to identify as Christian when making this value judgement because most people just accept that Christian fundamentalism is extreme, unlike with contemporary notions of Islam. The fact is for most Muslims they do not want these issues to be seen as a problem with Islam but rather as a problem with some crazy ass country/leader. SO instead of looking for the moderate muslims out there, why don't we just look for more people in those countries to fix these problems. Where are the Saudis, muslim or not, who will stand up to this? Where are he Sudanese that will fight back? How can we find them and help them speak out? These should be your questions.

Posted by Chris from DC | December 7, 2007 6:08 PM

As a former muslim who grew up in a muslim society, i agree 100% with what Ayaan said.

The more strictly you follow Islam, the more you take all the wife beating and lashing verses seriously. The only reason every single muslim is not violent is not because islam is a religion of peace, but because they're good humans who're ignoring and not following the core tenets of this ideology which oppresses women, gays, nonmuslims, apostates etc. Similar to the good jews/christians who're ignoring the violent aspects of the OT.

But a significant % of the muslims do take the quran seriously, and when they do, you get the violent hateful ideology, because in the end, quran is full of hatred against anyone not a male muslim.

Posted by B | December 7, 2007 6:21 PM

Christians may do a lot of crazy things, but they don't typically advocate killing anyone who doesn't think exactly like them. And to even compare the abuse that women and homosexuals experience in Christian nations to what goes on in many, if not most, Islamic nations is just absurd. The author of this editorial--Ayaan Hirsi Ali--is an ex-Muslim who could easily be killed for her beliefs any day. It seems that those saying Dan Savage raised a "bigoted question" are ignorant about what Islamists actually believe and the influence they have.

Posted by Peter | December 7, 2007 6:25 PM

Dan, do you really want to know where the moderates are? The answer is always this: the moderates never get headlines because they're, well, moderate. How often, for instance, as The Stranger covered moderate religion in Seattle? How many blog articles are there about moderates in Slog? None, zip, zilch, nada, nunca.

Oh, about the Seattle Times' religion columnists. The whole religion page recently disappeared from the Seattle Times. It's been a feature of the paper for decades, but is now gone. The columnists are still there, but are now on a random page in the Saturday local section. Another example of media ignoring the importance of recognizing the role of moderate religion.

Here's the link you requested: Muslims must resist violence over insult to prophet

Posted by parsonbrown | December 7, 2007 6:37 PM

you go ayaan, AEI or not.

fuck monotheism.

Posted by maxsolomon@home | December 7, 2007 6:40 PM

"It is often said that America has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical neocons. The vast majority of Americans are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the American voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many American are willing to stand up and say, in the case of military interrogation tactics in the CIA, willingness to kidnap Britons, destruction of evidence by the White House and its lackeys, that this manner of governance is appalling, brutal and bigoted—and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?"


Posted by STJA | December 7, 2007 6:48 PM

Muslim Moderates come out to complain about these stories all the time. They usually get mentioned at the tail end of the stories after the more incendiary details of Muslim hardliners demanding biblical justice.

The Muslim Council of Britain and CAIR usually bend over backwards to state most Muslims don't follow this logic.

The teddy-bear story has more to do with the Sudan and Darfur than with Muslim extremism.

I posted a bunch of links to back up my claim, but the Slog Spam blocker ate them.

Posted by six shooter | December 7, 2007 7:05 PM

@14 Americans are too lazy.

Unprecedented illegal data-mining? Maybe i will make some angry sounding posts on a blog.

An ongoing war conducted unconscionably by both parties? Someone else will be president in 14 months so why bother getting off the couch, even if the DLC will just continue in Iraq the same way Bush has, they are too scared of being soft to do anything meaningful in American foreign policy

Posted by vooodooo84 | December 7, 2007 7:25 PM

@14 and 16

Because the moderates don't own the media.

Olbermann is maybe the only moderate on a major News Network. The rest is owned and opperated by sociopathic Corporate Libertarians. The majority has been locked out of public media for the most part.

Plus our couches are very comfortable.

Posted by toasterhedgehog | December 7, 2007 8:08 PM

Lutherans don't get a lot of press either, as an example of moderate Christians.

Posted by Fire F. Ly | December 7, 2007 9:24 PM

@5 -- Thanks for the insight. Very nice summary.

Posted by Old Greenman | December 7, 2007 9:29 PM

@18 ever been to a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church? they are pretty conservative; there are exceptions to every rule

Posted by vooodooo84 | December 7, 2007 9:42 PM

@20: They're extremely conservative, yes. So is the Wisconsin Synod. The thing is, you *have* to go to one of their churches to find that out. They tend to keep it to themselves. You don't see Lutherans going on TV to hawk their beliefs. You don't see them accosting people on street corners. You don't see them using their faith to try to get a leg up while running for public office. You don't see them writing websites advocating killing abortion doctors.

I think this type of religious conservatism is perfectly OK. People can live by strict rules if they want to; they just shouldn't expect to force everyone else to do so as well.

Posted by Orv | December 7, 2007 9:50 PM

that is true Orv, liberal society seems willing to tolerate very conservative religious communities as long as they are relatively self-contained, and keep to themselves

the same way America tolerates the Amish, a religious sect that can disobey the law (not paying taxes or getting immunizations) merely because they keep to themselves and aren't really a growth industry.

Posted by vooodooo84 | December 7, 2007 10:50 PM

You know, Dan ... I'm going to guess that all those moderate Muslims are hanging out in the same place as all the moderate Christians who, for some reason, don't tell their homophobic, judgmental, persecutory neighbors to back off. I realize that these are different circumstances, of course; the situations seem totally different to many, and that's fair. But I say give international Muslims centuries at the top of an exploitative colonial game in which money becomes more important than God, and they will look and sound just like our more local monotheistic neighbors who hold a statistical majority. The only reason that our local neighbors aren't killing people is that they've found something more important to them than bloodshed and God, and that's money.

You want the "Muslims" to "civilize"? Give them something to lose. You want the "moderates" to speak up against their more extreme fellows in any redemptive, monotheistic religion? Good fuh-reekin' luck.

Posted by BD | December 8, 2007 2:24 AM

Yeah! Where are their voices, man? I mean, for example, the power of our American moderate voices has practically almost shut down Guantanamo, ended the Iraqi occupation, restored habeas corpus, and halted illegal wiretapping of our emails and phone calls! Our loud, loud voices are very effective, so why aren't they inspired over there to follow our example? All they need to do is post, and then comment some, and their rulers will reverse course as ours are probably just about to do! Go online, Islamic moderates! You have nothing to lose but your sense of what constitutes effective political action!

Posted by tomasyalba | December 8, 2007 2:51 AM

Thanks Dan for bringing up the male victim in the rape case. I knew that from somewhere (Juan Cole?) but was beginning to believe that I made it up in my mind because a group of media darlings have begun to shape the story. Female rape = awful. Male rape = undecided.

Posted by Shawn Fassett | December 8, 2007 8:47 AM

A moderate person would not stand up to such injustice. Only an extreme person will stand up for what is right.

Pretty simple logic, really...

Posted by Hal | December 9, 2007 1:47 PM

Very disappointed to read this coming from Dan Savage.

Thank you, #6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 23, 24.

Posted by amees | December 9, 2007 4:19 PM

The Times religion columnists are freelance writers, and thus must give permission for their columns to appear in the archives. Apparently they did not.

Posted by bigyaz | December 9, 2007 7:54 PM

@28, as I posted above @12 the columns are in the archives. The one Dan requested is linked there.

Posted by parsonbrown | December 9, 2007 10:02 PM

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